Shad: The Big Columbia’s June Stimulus Package!
by Terry W Sheely
If you need some really fun fishing to “stimulate” your seasonal recovery, grab the kids, the trout rocks, pick out a flat rock and pack it down to Bonneville Dam to stand on and cast for American Shad.
Shad fishing is a hoot. These non-natives weigh 2 to 5 pounds, jump like electrified tarpon, pull hard, eat small lures and arrive by the millions—2 to 5 million most years.
While there are regionalized fisheries at John Day and in the Bonneville Pool, the big fishery breaks out from Bonneville Dam downstream to the mouth of the Willamette with some pretty productive stops at Washougal, Camas, the mouth of the Sandy and Beacon Rock State Park.
Like salmon and steelhead, shad are anadromous. Unlike salmon, they do not necessarily die after spawning. They surge into the Big C to spawn when water temperatures are between 50 and 60 F which puts the peak of the action between Memorial Day and the middle of June. There’s no limit, no minimum size, no problematic restrictions. Catch all you want.
Best action almost always falls to boaters who can anchor up in a fast run and feed lures downstream to wobble and flash in front of arriving shad. But bankees can do just fine in several spots. Hottest of course is smack below Bonneville Dam, working the huge schools that jam up there before plunging up the fish ladders. A popular fishery at
Camas Slough is mostly a boat show, although some shad are taken from the steamboat landing dock in Washougal.
To find productive shoreline access, head east from I-5 on Highway 14 about two miles past the little town of North Bonneville. Look for a set of transmission towers and a cutoff to the right onto an access road. Go either upstream toward the dam or downstream. This road opens better than three miles of river for bank fishing.
WDFW recommends four specific sites to try in the Bonneville area:
Cascade Island: The best side of the island is the Spillway Dam side. This area is usually open for access before the shad season opens on May 16.
The North Shoreline below Second Powerhouse Dam: Start at the deadline and work the shoreline a few hundred yards downstream. (Note--fishing is allowed to within 600 feet below the dam. The deadline is marked by a yellow line painted on the rocks.
Transmission towers: A good bank and boat spot to try when the water is high.
Boat ramp area: Downstream from the Hamilton Island boat ramp to the end of the access road, try any little point or eddy where you can cast to the current seam. Walking upstream from the boat ramp, there is about a three-block
piece of shoreline with good spots all along.
Below John Day Dam: Primitive shore access is available, if you can ferret it out, between Maryhill Park and John Day Dam.
Look for fast current where the flow forces the fish close to shore. Shad will stage inside the current to swim upstream. In a boat find a current seam where the river narrows, or there is a bend and the river will pick up speed going around the corner. The higher velocity can act like a current funnel, putting the shad right in front of you.
The best places to cast are where the water is between four and 10 feet deep, no more. You'll take most of your shad within 30 feet of the bank. Casting beyond that is generally wasted effort. Cast upstream at about a 45-degree angle, approximately 30 feet out. Let the lure sink and follow it downstream with the rod tip until it is opposite you. Then let the current start to pull it. If the water is shallow and your lure starts banging rocks raise your rod tip and slowly reel to swim the lure up the slope of the rocks. Long rods will prove their worth here.
Beads: Inexpensive and smokin’ effective, bright beads are great shad lures. String two or three beads of varying colors (red, coral, metallic, etc.) on the line, in front of the hook.
Flies: Artificial flies on a size 4 hook, with a sparse white body and red or yellow tail, work well.
Shad darts: This lure is the same general color, pattern and shape as the shad fly. It usually needs no added weight. Crappie" jigs in bright red, white or silver colors will also catch shad.
Spoons: A lightweight, wobbling spoon about one and one-half inches long can be effective, especially from a boat. The spoon is more expensive than beads and darts, though, and you should be ready to lose a pile of gear in these
Spinners: Small silver-finish weighted spinners will take a share of fish, especially from shore where they can be cast and drifted with the current. As with spoons, the biggest disadvantage is the expense when you tangle with rocks.
Most anglers tackle shad for the dynamic fight and catch-and-release, except for the ones they stash in the cooler for sturgeon baits. But if you insist on eating these bony slabs here’s a couple of recipes to try from the shad enthusiasts at WDFW. The uniform secret is to soften the bones to the point where they can be munched without a problem—ala canned salmon.
This method softens the bones and is even considered delicious by some.
1 shad (3-5 lbs)
1 tsp. salt
dash of pepper
2 Tbsp. melted butter, OR 2 bacon strips
1 can soup (tomato or mushroom, are great.)
Clean and split open shad. Season inside and out with salt, pepper.
Brush with melted butter or place the bacon strips over the fish.
Pour soup over the fish.
Take heavy-duty aluminum foil or several layers of regular foil and wrap the shad.
Fold over twice on top, then ends, so the fish is tightly sealed.
Bake slowly at 275 degrees F for 5 hours.
Brown Bag Crusty Bake:
If you like fish a nice, crusty brown, with the bones softened, try this:
Clean and split the fish
Leave the head and tail on during cooking to help hold in the stuffing and discard after the fish is cooked.
Take a brown paper bag (not foil) and grease it well, inside and out, with vegetable oil or shortening.
Season the fish lightly with salt on the outside.
To make the stuffing, chop an onion and a few stalks of celery and season the combination with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.
Place stuffing in shad cavity and secure the opening with small cooking skewers.
Carefully place the fish inside the brown bag and secure bag with pins or staples.
Put the bag on a cookie sheet. Bake in a very slow oven (225 F) for 5hours.
The slow cooking softens the bones so that they are edible, and the shad
is a nice, crusty brown.
Southern Fried shad:
Adopting some of the ideas of good southern cooks this makes a savory dish.
1 or 2 cups flour
pepper (to taste)
2 Tbsp. water
2 or 3 cups cornmeal or dried bread crumbs
Shortening bacon drippings or vegetable spray
Put the flour and cornmeal (or bread crumbs) into separate pie pans or in wide bowls.
Roll fillets in flour to coat.
Beat eggs, water, and desired amount of pepper until well-blended.
Dip the floured fillets into the egg mixture.
Quickly lay wet fillets in cornmeal or bread crumbs and coat both sides.
Allow fillets to air dry five minutes, to set the coating.
This method seals the meat and keeps it moist.
Fry fillets in melted shortening, drippings or sprayed pan.